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Face of Defense: Pair Blazed Path for Women in Military Aviation

By Martha Lockwood
Air Force News Service

FORT MEADE, Md., March 4, 2013 – Two women, from completely opposite economic, social and cultural backgrounds, walked parallel paths during the early days of World War II, clearing boundaries for women in aviation.

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Jacqueline Cochran, left, and Nancy Love blazed a path for women in military aviation. U.S. Air Force graphic by Sylvia Saab

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Jacqueline Cochran was born in 1906 in a cotton-fields-and-sawmill small town in western Florida. She grew up in such poverty that she didn’t own a pair of shoes until she was nine years old.

As Cochran grew, she loved the sight of airplanes, and she firmly believed that one day she would fly. In 1932 she earned her pilot’s license, and she not only flew, she soared.

At the time of Cochran’s death Aug. 9, 1980, she held more international speed, distance and altitude records than any other pilot, male or female. She was the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean, and was the driving force behind the formation of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, which trained female pilots to fly military aircraft.

Nancy Harkness Love was born in 1914, the daughter of a wealthy physician, in Houghton, Mich. By the time she was 16, she’d earned her pilot's license. During her college years at Vassar, she earned extra money by taking students for airplane rides.

Harkness married Robert Love, an Air Corps Reserve major. In early 1942, when he was called to active duty in the Munitions Building in Washington as the deputy chief of staff of the Ferrying Command, Nancy piloted her own plane for her daily commute to the operations office of the 2nd Ferrying Group, Domestic Division, near Baltimore.

The Domestic Division was commanded by Army Col. William H. Tunner, and Nancy Love convinced him to propose using experienced female pilots to supplement the existing Army Air Corps pilot force.

Although Tunner's proposal to the Army Air Corps was denied, he appointed Love to his staff as Executive of Women Pilots, in 1942.

Within a few months Love had recruited 29 experienced female pilots to join the newly created Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron.

That same year, Cochran was appointed Director of the Women's Flying Training Detachment for the United States.

The WFTD and WAFS were merged on August 5, 1943, to create the paramilitary Women Airforce Service Pilots organization at 120 air bases across America. The 1,074 female pilots of the WASP each freed a male pilot for combat service and duties.

The WASP pilots flew more than 60 million miles in every type of military aircraft. They ferried aircraft from factories, towed targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice and served as test pilots. WASP service was considered civil service and veterans were not granted military benefits until 1977.

In 2009, Congress awarded the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal.

"I might have been born in a hovel but I am determined to travel with the wind and the stars," Cochran had once said. She passed away on Aug. 9, 1980.

Love passed away on Oct. 22, 1976. 

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Related Sites:
Women in the U.S. Army: Women Pilots of World War II
Special: Women’s History Month 2013

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